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Press Release


Too Much Talk, Time For Action


HO CHI MINH CITY (22 Sept 2007): We’re not keeping our word. We said we’d take 15 years to deliver the Millennium Development Goals. The time’s half gone. And we are nowhere near half way.

Because there are four billion people still living on less than $2 a day.

What has stopped us creating the coalitions needed to target poverty between the business and NGO worlds? A handful of companies have led the world with innovations into poverty, like Microsoft and Vodafone, but for most people you can probably count the companies that come to mind on less than your ten fingers.

More poor live in Asia than anywhere else in the world. It therefore makes sense that this region should provide the next landscape of learning. The East has already led the West by reinventing how business can alleviate poverty — through microfinance.

A new trend in business thinking — Spiritual Intelligence, the Ultimate Intelligence — claims that Western humanism is spiritually stunted, and Asian humanism is spiritually intelligent. Whatever you choose to accept, big business in Asia has a new set of expectations on its shoulders.

Oren Schlein, a 10-year veteran of the UN and development sector, believes that the reasons for business getting involved in poverty reduction efforts needs to be spelt out more clearly.
“From a development perspective, aid in whatever form it’s given is important. The challenge is to channel this aid in a meaningful, strategic and sustainable way. Dozens of international organizations and tens of thousands of NGOs working in this space have led the charge in recent decades. And yet, despite all their efforts and many success stories, we continue to face a massive poverty gap and insufficient resources to truly make poverty history.”

Now is the time for business to step up to the plate. Business has the interest, the resources and the skills to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the poor. In 2006, the entire UN system, including the World Bank, had an operating budget of less than $20 billion. That same year, net income for Exxon Mobil was nearly $40 billion, General Electric was nearly $21 billion, and Citigroup and Bank of America were both over $21 billion. Imagine the positive impact that a handful of good corporate citizens (large and small) could have on the billions of people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. The opportunities, the challenges and the potential rewards are staggering.

Schlein, the CEO of Robin Hood Asia, launching at this year’s Asian Forum on CSR in Ho Chi Minh City in September, works at the nexus of the two worlds — business and development. He sees one of the main roles of NGOs as facilitating an understanding of the needs of the poor and the role of business as innovators.

‘‘25,000 people die every day because they are poor. Billions more are caught in a poverty trap from which they cannot escape. And yet we’re told there is a $5 trillion market opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid.’’

If someone knocked on any business’ door and offered them even a fraction of this — a $10 million market opportunity — it might seem more approachable. It’s hard for business to identify what their role might be. Is it examining every supply chain decision for innovation potential, from source to manufacturer, distributor to retailer? Is it championing an issue and leveraging powerful communications campaigns around it? Or is it first saying, let’s sit down and think about what worldview we are holding and how it restricts us from seeing the innovation potential?

Schlein asserts that the worldview and language of business is different from the worldview and language of the development and NGO sectors. Mutual understanding and effective partnerships can only come by learning to speak the same language and adopting an integrated perspective. This is a new move for many in business.

He claims social and financial investments could deliver measurable returns — and equity to build upon in the future. Or they could be short-lived and non-equity building. Often they are a collection of chairman’s choice token projects that miss hitting the real mark.

Schlein has co-founded Robin Hood Asia with social entrepreneur Jude Mannion, who has for the last 5 years been CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation in New Zealand, developing corporate frameworks that take a social stand. She has worked with nearly 20 of the world’s biggest brands, including Coke, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Vodafone and UBS.

Robin Hood Asia is based in Indonesia. Both Mr Schlein and Ms Mannion are speakers at the Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility.

For further information:

Jude Mannion


t: +852 8170-0604


Oren Schlein


t: +852 8170-3065


Robin Hood Asia works alongside business in developing innovations to alleviate poverty.

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